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South Carolina E Carolina Footballahlers

East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers walks the sideline during a game Saturday against South Carolina.

HUNTINGTON — Marshall football head coach Charles Huff got right to the point when discussing East Carolina, this week’s opponent, in his weekly news conference Tuesday.

When Huff sees East Carolina on film, there’s one thing that stands out to him.

“They’re really good,” Huff said. “This will be the best team that we’ve played thus far in the season — the best overall team.”

East Carolina comes into the contest with an 0-2 record, but the competition the Pirates have faced in the early going has been stout with losses to Appalachian State (Marshall’s Sept. 23 opponent) and SEC foe South Carolina, which defeated ECU last week on a last-second field goal.

The Pirates feature a veteran defense that Huff praised on Tuesday, plus a fourth-year starter at quarterback, Holton Ahlers, who leads a talented offensive skill group.

“When you put on the film, there’s nobody hiding,” Huff said. “There’s no ‘Oh, here’s a weakness’ or ‘Oh, here’s a size advantage’ or ‘Oh, they have a good system, but’ — there’s none of that. This is a real football team.”

Marshall quarterback Grant Wells agreed with Huff’s assessment, saying East Carolina’s defense brings plenty of aspects to the table the Thundering Herd will have to account for in Saturday’s matchup.

“This is a very experienced defense,” Wells said. “I think they return somewhere like nine or 10 starters on defense. Whenever you play a team like that, you know they’re experienced and they play well together. They are going to be where they need to be.”

Huff was insistent that his team, despite a 44-10 win last week over North Carolina Central, needed to clean up plenty of things as it moves forward in the schedule and the competition level increases.

In watching East Carolina, Huff sees an aggressive team that takes advantage of its opportunities.

Offensively, Marshall has had issues putting the ball on the ground in both its games this year. The Herd has been able to recover most of those fumbles, losing only one of six.

Huff said against an aggressive team like the Pirates, those mistakes go the other way quickly, so his team must clean up its miscues — especially in a game in which Huff feels like the level of competition is close.

“In the other couple games, I thought we had some advantages from a personnel standpoint in certain areas,” Huff said. “This game is probably going to be about even. Every game comes down to execution, but when you have some personnel advantages, you may get away with putting the ball on the ground.

“When the bar is even, those are the things that end up biting you. I talk about it all the time — it catches up to you when it catches up to you. That’s when those things catch up to you. We’ve been trying to emphasize that over and over and over.”

Marshall running back Rasheen Ali said the East Carolina defense may look familiar when the teams line up on Saturday.

“When I see their defense, they’re an identical defense to our defense,” Ali said. “They’re physical, they’re downhill. When they blitz, they’re not stopping their feet. They’re coming.”

Huff said the similarities were also shared by the staff with the team in looking at film prior to preparation for practice.

“We pointed out some things that they do just like us,” Huff said. “We pointed out some things that we’ve done in camp to prepare them for playing this type of defense. They’re good. There’s no doubt about it.”

Ali said that while the defensive competition will be a challenge, he felt that familiarity can help the Herd on Saturday.

“I think playing them is just like playing our defense,” Ali said. “We’re going to be ready because we always play against our defense every day, so I don’t think it’s going to be any different. I think we’re going to be prepared, we’re going to watch film and we’ll do what we have to do to be prepared for them.”

Grant Traylor is the sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch and covers Marshall athletics for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.